The Surprise Saguaros defeated the Mesa Solar Sox 2-0 in the 22nd annual Arizona Fall League Championship Game, for the first shutout in the game’s history.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon for baseball in Scottsdale, Arizona, 3,645 fans made their way through the gates in the spring home of the San Francisco Giants, and winter home of the Scottsdale Scorpions, for the 22nd annual Arizona Fall League Championship Game.
The title game would feature the Mesa Solar Sox, winners of the East Valley division, and the Surprise Saguaros, winners of the West Valley division. The two team comprise of prospects from the Cubs, Athletics, Tigers, Angels, Nationals, Indians, Red Sox, Brewers, Orioles, and Rangers organizations.
The game remained scoreless through the first inning and a half, with both pitchers locked in and pounding the strikezone early and often. Dalls Beeler, the starter for Mesa, was the benefactor of a couple of great plays in the first couple frames by his second baseman, Devon Travis.
Mesa passed up what could have been a good opportunity in the top of the second when Steven Souza Jr of the Washington Nationals was thrown out trying to swipe second, with Soler batting and only one out. Instead Soler found himself in a two strike count with two out and nobody on.
In the bottom of the inning the Saguaros opened up the scoring on a two out single by Jorge Alfaro, driving in the Henry Urrutia. Alfaro would be out at second on the play, ending the inning with Surprise up 1-0.
The third inning was void of any scoring, as both teams failed to have a runner reach first base safely.
In the top of the fourth the Solar Sox once again passed up an opportunity, this time with Travis being thrown out attempting to steal second, with the clean-up hitter CJ Cron batting and only one dead. Through the first four innings Mesa had three runners reach base, and two of them were erased by Surprise catcher Alfaro, who also had the lone RBI in the game.
The bottom of the fourth started poorly for the Solar Sox. The first batter, Mookie Betts, reached on an error by Mesa shortstop Addison Russell on a routine ground ball. To make matters worse, Beeler then walked the following batter, Garin Cecchini on four pitches.
Beeler battled back and struck out the next two batters, and was able to escape the inning on a grounder to Travis; no runs would score and at the end of four it was still a pitchers duel with Surprise clinging to a 1-0 lead.
The top of the fifth came and went with the Solar Sox being put down in order by Surprise relief pitcher Tyler Cravy. Mesa drove a couple of balls deep to left, but both were corralled by Urrutia.
Beeler returned to the mound for the bottom of the fifth and retired the Saguaros one, two, three on two grounders and a pop-up to second base.
In the top of the sixth Mesa started to show signs of life at the plate. With one out Jett Bandy drew a walk, and Russell followed it with a single, giving the Solar Sox runners on first and second with one down. Then Travis reached first first on a fielding error by relief pitcher Tim Berry.
This brought AFL homerun leader Kris Bryant to the plate with the bases loaded and still only one out. Bryant wouldn’t come through on the opportunity, popping out to the first baseman in foul territory. Cron would then strikeout swinging on a pitch up and out of the zone, and the Saguaros escaped the bases loaded jam still up 1-0 after five and a half innings.
For the bottom of the sixth Jeff Urlaub would come in from the bullpen for Beeler. Beeler would take the loss on the day going five solid innings only allowing one run on two hits and a walk, striking out five along the way.
Surprise didn’t score in the bottom of the sixth, but it was anything but quiet. Their first two batters reached first safely, but were both erased by Urlaub’s deceiving lefty move to first. At the end of six the two teams were still deadlocked in a 1-0 game.
Mesa would get a runner on with one out in the top of the seventh, but were unable to bring him in as Jorge Soler and Tyler Collins went for back-to-back swinging strikeouts to end the frame.
The Saguaros would gt a two out double in the bottom of the inning, but nothing else and would head to the eighth with their 1-0 still intact.
The Solar Sox went quietly in the eighth going down in order. Through eight innings, the Surprise bullpen had combined for five innings of shutout work, only surrendering three hits while recording six punch-outs.
Corey Knebel would come in to pitch the bottom of the eighth for Mesa, and attempt to hold down the Saguaros and give his team a chance to come back in the bottom of the ninth.
Jonathan Schoop lead off the inning with a single just passed the glove of the diving shortstop Russell. Schoop was then bunted over to second by Joe Wendle, and would advance to third on a wild pitch. Knebel then gave Tyler Nanquin the intentional pass to set up the double play.
With runners on first and third and only one out Betts stepped to the plate and cashed in on the opportunity, roping a single into center allowing Schoop to score, putting the Saguaros up 2-0. This ended Knebel’s day, and Mesa turned to the pen and brought in Mike Morin to salvage the inning; with runners on first and second and only one gone.
Morin got some help as the batter he faced, Cecchini, lofted a ball into shallow left center, and Russell ranged back from short and made a sterling leaping grab for the second out. Morin would then get Travis Shaw to pop out to third, ending the Surprise threat, sending Mesa to their last licks down by two.
The Saguaros would send David Goforth to the hill for the save opportunity, as they would attempt to close out the first shutout in Arizona Fall League Championship Game history. However, he would have to face the Solar Sox heart of the order Bryant, Cron, and Souza Jr.
Bryant would lead of the inning hitting a routine fall ball to left field. Cron followed with one of his own to center. Just like that the Solar Sox were down to their last out. Souza Jr would strikeout looking to end the game and the Arizona Fall League, as the Surprise Saguaros celebrated their championship victory on the field.